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Shroud of the Avatar: Selective Multiplayer, Part 1

The Vision

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As a follow-up to the interview with Richard Garriott on the general status of Shroud of the Avatar, we met again to discuss the potentially revolutionary MMO concept of asynchronous and offline gameplay.

Garriott On selective multiplayer: We were trying to concurrently solve a handful of problems. The problem we were trying to solve first was my demand to be able to play on a mobile device when I’m not connected to the internet. That was actually the first problem.

I said, “Look, I play on mobile all the time. I’m on an airplane all the time, I don’t want to not be able to play when I’m offline, and only with a mobile device in my hand.”

And so the team’s first offer was, “Well, we’ll give you the auction house, or managing your home, or examining your character sheet.”

And I’m going, “No, no, I want to play the full game.”

So we had a huge argument.

Schultz There was lots of rolling of eyes?

Garriott There was lots of rolling of eyes. And “Richard is insane.” And it is still true that it may be an insane goal, but that is still my goal.

But the first thing that that demanded was that, if you think of a traditional MMO, it’s client-server based; and so the client is really only a dumb terminal to redraw the screen and accept input.

Schultz In security terms, untrusted.

Garriott Right. Everything happens on the server. By definition, as soon as you say you want to play offline at all, that means the server functions have to be on-board with you on the client.

So that already doubled the footprint size, and it’s already big to begin with. So that’s why most people say “You’re crazy,” and write it off.

But once you accept that demand, that says the server-side has to operate on the client, what you would think of as the client side, immediately that opens up some other interesting opportunities. Which means that if you and me are playing together in an instance where only you and me are in it, we don’t need a server. One of us could be the server. (Leaving security issues aside for the minute.) And there are other issues that come up like, “What if I leave the instance, and you’re still in it. Now you need to be the master and take over operation of it.”

So there is some other complexity. But the advantage of saying that you don’t need a server, that if there’s a group of us in an instance that we amongst us can manage that instance, again, leaving security problems on the side for a second, that radically reduces our hardware need in the cloud if we can begin to leverage the assets within the playerbase.

Another thing that did was that if I’m playing offline, I’m playing by myself, I’m playing soloplayer. But we wanted it not to be soloplayer like, if you play a soloplayer version of a role-playing game, it means you do not see the persistent world, period, normally. What we wanted to do was say, look, if I’m playing offline for an hour, I want the world to be as close to the real-time state as it could have been. So, whenever I was last connected, I want to have that state of the world… and then either have the complex problem of either, “Don’t let me make changes enough to where I can’t reintegrate them,” or go through the complex problem of reintegrating changes that happened while I was offline. One of those two you have to accept.

But the beneficial side effect of this approach was … one of the great features that social media games have uncovered is asynchronous gameplay.  Most people in their group of friends have a hundred or two hundred people. The number of those people who are playing in the same game at the same time in your group of friends is small, and the number of them who are playing the exact same game, at the exact same time, on the exact same map, is really small. It’s somewhere between zero and five other people. And you’re only going to get to five or ten if you coordinate it.

But as a general rule, if you and your buddies are not going to see each other as a general rule, even if there is only one instance of the whole world, we’re just not going to be on at the same place at the same time, statistically.

Continue on to Part 2.

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